13 January, 2015

Middle-of-the-Novel Mire

Let's talk Writer's Block. I'm one of those people who doesn't like the phrase and doesn't ever claim to be suffering from it. Medical emergencies aside, anyone who has time to write can write. However, that doesn't mean writing is equally easy or hard all the time. Sometimes the only writing we can do is complete crap, destined for the recycling bin - virtual or otherwise. And if we know our writing is going to be terrible, it's difficult to motivate ourselves to do it. This is where I find myself now.

Some people say writing is like any other job. Plumbers don't get plumbers block, they say. They have to get on with the job regardless, and so must writers. I have a lot of sympathy with this point of view - certainly more than I do for the Tortured Artist point of view. However, plumbers have a definite problem to solve. Writers have a definite problem to solve only after they've created the problem in the first place. As a writer of fiction it's easy to get to a point where moving the story forward feels so laborious it seems impossible. For me this happens almost invariably around the 40 000-point in the draft of a novel.

Middle-of-the-novel Mire is common stopping place for writers. A good idea will get you most of the way there, and the desire to bring things to a conclusion will carry you through the last 20 000 words. That middle bit is where you have to honestly decide whether you've got enough story to fill a book and/or whether your character is driving the plot or just a passive body who the plot happens to. (Writers who prefer not to plan at all and start off just with an initial idea, often talk of a much earlier sticking point - around chapter three).

Having a young baby has reduced my writing time dramatically. I now have to write in tiny spurts, often with little time to gather my thoughts beforehand. This is not making the situation easier. Despite this, I was plodding on and felt happy enough, finishing at Christmas at 38 000 words and ready to start afresh in 2015. And now I find I have no more words to come.

My comfort in this matter is remembering the past. My published novel The Art of Letting Go, started off as a 60 000 word mess with so little plot I had to make things up on the spot just to keep going. Eventually, it ended up a 90 000 novel, published and with a good handful of five-star reviews on Amazon. Even if what I write now is awful, nobody ever has to see it. Awful writing is at least writing that can be edited. Not-yet-written writing can't.

I don't know if this novel will work out, but I'm hoping to plough on through the mire for now and see if there is firmer ground in 10 000 words or so. Or perhaps I shall just take Raymond Chandler's advice - "If your plot is flagging, have a man come in with a gun." What do you do when your stories stall?

4 comments:

  1. I feel for you, Chloe. I've tried a couple of things that seem to help: 1. I read the manuscript from the beginning with a notebook at my side. Sometimes I'll spot beginnings of things that haven't been developed. 2. I talk to my characters. I find out things I never knew about them that inform their behaviour.

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    1. Yes, I have read from the beginning - I find that very helpful. But this time it only seemed to help for about half a chapter. I think maybe I just don't have enough steam in the plot to keep it boiling for a whole novel. It might require a bigger re-think.

      Thanks, Derek! :)

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  2. I used some good advice from a book that asked the question: how could I make things worse for my MC.

    It was pretty useful! Life is like that a lot of the time - just when you think things couldn't be more difficult then it throws more things at you.

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    1. That is useful - kind of like a more subtle "suddenly a shot rang out"!

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